· How they affect you: Beyond upping the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and leading to weight gain, refined carbohydrates, like white bread, soda, and potato chips, move quickly through the digestive tract and can result in bloating, cramping, and other GI issues.
What you can do: If you can’t totally cut out processed foods from your diet, eat them in combination with foods that digest slowly, like lean protein – think chicken breast without the skin – and healthy fat – like an avocado or natural peanut butter, says Palinski-Wade. On top of that, keep portions in check, so those refined carbs don’t outweigh the good food you’re combining them with.
What are processed foods?
Processed foods have been altered from their natural state, either for safety reasons or for convenience. The methods used include canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing.
Good Processed Foods
We tend to think of them as bad, like most high-fat, high-calorie snack foods or even those prepackaged meals you fix in a skillet, but it turns out that some of these foods are not bad for your health at all. For example, milk is considered a processed food because it's pasteurized to kill bacteria and homogenized to keep fats from separating.
Breakfast cereal can be good for you if it's made with 100-percent whole grain and fortified with additional nutrients, but many breakfast cereals are low in fiber and contain too much sugar. Read the nutrition label on the package, it will help you decide if the breakfast cereal is good or not.
Freezing vegetables preserves most vitamins and minerals and makes them convenient to store, cook and eat all year around. Fruit and vegetable juice is also an example of a healthy processed food -- usually. In fact, some orange juice is fortified with calcium to make it even more nutritious. Oatmeal, unbreaded frozen fish fillets, canned salmon, frozen berries and 100-percent whole grain bread are also examples of processed foods that are good for you.
Bad Processed Foods
Processed foods made with trans-fats, saturated fats, and large amounts of sodium and sugar aren't good for you. These processed foods should be avoided, or at least eaten sparingly:
- Canned foods with large amounts of sodium or fat.
- Pasta meals made with refined white flour instead of whole grains.
- Packaged high-calorie snack foods such as chips and candies.
- Frozen fish sticks and frozen dinners that are high in sodium.
- Packaged cakes and cookies.
- Boxed meal mixes that are high in fat and sodium.
- Sugary breakfast cereals.
- Processed meats.
Why processed meats? Some studies suggest that eating processed meats may increase your risk of colorectal, kidney and stomach cancer. And some people worry about hotdogs and brain tumors. Processed meats include hot dogs, bologna, sausage, ham and other packaged lunch meats. These meats are frequently high in calories, saturated fats and sodium.
Choosing Processed Foods
Be sure to look for products that are made with more whole grains, less sodium and have fewer calories. They should also be low in saturated fat and free of trans-fats (be sure to read the label, sometimes foods that claim to be trans-fat free still contain partially hydrogenated oils). Make sure you pay attention to serving size, too, and balance out the processed foods with more fresh foods. If you choose a convenient meal in a skillet, add a garden salad, fresh vegetables, and some whole grain bread to make the meal healthier. You can also the nutritional value of ramen noodles by adding fresh vegetables.